My Father’s Final Gift

Twenty five days before my father died, on my birthday exactly six years ago, he gave me a present. He had the sparkle back in his eye—the one that had been reduced by pancreatic cancer to an ashen ember—when he gave it to me. It was a small package, rectangular in shape, in crisp brown-paper wrapping. Twine neatly wrapped around the corners, crisscrossing back and forth arriving at a bow crafted by the sure hands of a man who built his first model airplane at age seven.

This small brown package will be the final gift my father ever gives me.

My family does gifts strangely. For instance, we have our own mangled interpretation of hanukkah, where each person of the family has a night to give out presents. If we have five people home for hanukkah, we celebrate only five of the eight nights. The joy of gifts are in the giving, not receiving, so before opening your present you must first guess what’s inside. This tradition is “plenty questions”, a more forgiving version than the standard twenty questions.

“Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?”, I ask.

We are in it for the game of teasing the gift out of the gifter. It’s like extracting [...] continue the story

How Patrick Swayze died: Why we should care

By Barron H. Lerner, MD

When I finished my book on famous patients, the most common question I received was “Are the stories of sick celebrities really relevant to other patients?” My answer was that yes, with some caveats, these experiences are well-worth knowing.

The same can be said for the story of Patrick Swayze’s terminal pancreatic cancer, which has now been told by his widow, actress Lisa Niemi Swayze, in a new book, “Worth Fighting For: Love, Loss and Moving Forward.” Patrick Swayze, a dancer and actor best known for his roles in the films “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost,” was diagnosed in January 2008 and died of the disease in September 2009 at the age of 57. He was originally told he would live only a few months.

First, the caveats. Like most celebrities, Swayze had the means, as his wife says, to “think outside the box.” He enrolled in a clinical trial at Stanford University, traveling regularly to Palo Alto from Los Angeles for experimental chemotherapy. Swayze also was a VIP patient, getting first-class attention from top doctors and hospital staffs. Most patients experience greater hurdles.

Nor should pancreatic cancer patients who read “Worth Fighting For” assume that they, like Swayze, can [...] continue the story